In addition to praising the Great Exhibition, Punch picked up on a number of issues and tensions in the mid-nineteenth century in England.
Britain wasn’t a democratic country by the end of 18th century. Certain working class had no right to vote. There was a lot of class discrimination. There was a growth in population leading to poverty in rural areas. The conditions in the factories were harsh. There were lot of other problems prevailing in the society then. During this process of massive growth Britain experienced The Great Exhibition, 1851. The exhibition was supposed to be celebration of works of the nations but gave more importance to achievements of Britain and its empire. The huge exhibition diverted the attention of masses towards itself from all the problems of the society.
Punch was a British magazine published from 1841 to 1992 and 1996 to 2002. Punch was a exemplar in its field. It consists of cartoons and writings. Punch was intended to be humorous its influence on Britain was significant. It covered issues of society and political affairs. The magazine showed best and worst of the society to the world.
Punch played a significant role during the Great Exhibition. They published a series of cartoons and writings praising the Great Exhibition with changing response of the visitors. The magazine didn’t just concentrate on the exhibition but more on the responses of the people. Punch also picked on different contemporary issues of gender, society, and parliament prevailing in the mid nineteenth century.
“The Shipwrecked Ministers saved by the Great Exhibition Steamer” was a most famous cartoon from the magazine critiquing on the distractions from the parliament created by the ministers with the help of Great Exhibition. The cartoon shows an attitude of the ruling class as well as the genuine value of the Exhibition which had a positive effect the economy of Britain. The cartoon was inspired by painting of Gericault, The Raft of Medusa.
Image Courtesy: http://www.qub.ac.uk
The cartoon has 10 men on a wreck of a ship, 5 of which look desperate for a rescue and other 5 have spotted other ship passing by and are caught in the moment of happiness. The spotted ship is named the Great Exhibition and is in the form of the building. The ministers a looking despondent at political concerns of income tax adjustments, registration bills, spirit duties and chancery reform float off out to sea, forgotten and neglected.
This shows how Punch magazine not only praised the Great Exhibition but also pulled up different issues prevailing in the society during that period through the humorous illustrations.